Schuh and Neuman at debate

Anne Arundel Republican county executive candidates Laura Neuman and Steve Schuh debated at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis on Monday. Neuman is the current county executive, who was appointed to replace John R. Leopold, and Schuh is a two-term state delegate. (Photos by Pamela Wood / Baltimore Sun / May 12, 2014)

Anne Arundel Republican county executive candidates Laura Neuman and Steve Schuh traded barbs in a debate this week in Annapolis.

Neuman, who was appointed county executive to replace John R. Leopold last year, and Schuh, a two-term state delegate, have been duking it out in the GOP primary for months.

Neuman used Monday's debate to attack Schuh for his actions as a state legislator and his campaign tactics.

She mentioned multiple times that Schuh voted for the state law that requires Anne Arundel and other jurisdictions to charge a stormwater remediation fee — dubbed a "rain tax" by detractors — to pay for pollution-reduction programs. And Neuman accused Schuh of dark campaign strategies, including talking with her mother. Neuman has acknowledged she has a rocky relationship with her family.

"I grew up essentially in a dysfunctional home. I'm not ashamed of my past," she said.

Schuh countered that Neuman has little experience in politics and pointed out that she proposed a property tax increase in her first budget last year.

Both candidates repeated many of the themes they've highlighted for months in their campaigns, such as Neuman growing up poor and becoming a successful businesswoman before going into politics, and Schuh pledging to lower taxes and attract businesses to the county.

They also offered a few new ideas: Schuh said he'd fund dozens of new, smaller public schools over the next 30 years and hire 150 more police officers, while Neuman suggested a new approach to government budgeting to scrutinize expenses. She also suggested merging the departments of health and social services.

The 90-minute debate at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis was moderated by Steve Gunn, editor of The Capital newspaper. He posed questions that were submitted by county residents and readers.

Some of the questions were pointed, such as one that asked who each candidate's top advisers are. Neuman has criticized Schuh for hiring people on his campaign staff who used to work for Leopold, who resigned after being convicted of misconduct in office.

Schuh said his top advisers include his fiancee; campaign manager Diane Croghan, who worked under Leopold; Danielle Iman, who works in his state delegate office; and political consultant Lawrence Scott. Schuh said Leopold is not involved in his campaign, and he hasn't hired anyone connected to the scandal involving the former county executive.

Neuman named as her top advisers her children; Karen Cook, the county's chief administrative officer; and Richard "Rook" Rogers, her chief of staff.

When asked about ethics, both candidates pledged not to bring scandal to the county. "I will never embarrass this county," Schuh said.

Neuman said even her soon-to-be-ex-husband, who was sitting in the audience, said she's never told a lie.

Neuman and Schuh were in agreement on some issues. They both expressed concerns about a rumored move of the Maryland Renaissance Festival from Crownsville to southern Anne Arundel, and both advocated for a reuse of the old Crownsville Hospital Center to support the community. They both also said the Crofton area needs a new high school.

The debate drew a large crowd to the arts center. Maryland Republican Party Director Joe Cluster estimated about 575 people attended, which he noted is larger than any Republican gubernatorial debate so far — he said the turnout was an indication of the party's strength in Anne Arundel.

Both campaigns had a significant number of employees and volunteers in attendance, and the grass around the arts center was covered in campaign signs.

The winner of the June 24 Republican primary will face Democrat George F. Johnson IV, a former county sheriff, in the general election.

pwood@baltsun.com

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